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Art that is Air: 1961

The following reflection was originally published on the now-defunct

Some time earlier this year, a new gallery space quietly opened its doors in Oxley Bizhub. The visitor walking toward the unit on the 6th floor of an industrial park building glimpses tacky oil paintings in oversized frames, Chinese water fountains (flowing water is wealth) and gaudy carpets in the units that lead up to 1961. The final approach is somewhat anticlimactic – simple grey double doors that really should not be surprising, considering its focus in contemporary art. Currently, Gary Woodley’s Impingement no. 67 is spilling out the unit, an intriguing glimpse to what the space would offer.

Inside, there is nothing. The single room space is small and square, evenly lit by daylight white bars. The whitewashed walls are marked by black lines that echo those seen at the door. Evidently, there is a point to this. Like Phi Phi Oanh at the National Gallery, Impingement no. 67 is a site-adaptive work which changes with the space of presentation. The observant visitor, as a show like this does force us to become, would notice bits of black tape on the air conditioning unit and the lighting continuing the tracing of space on the walls, floor and ceiling. However, the actual space remains empty. There is no painting, no sculpture, no projection, no television. There is nothing in this gallery.

Of course, there is something in the gallery. It is empty but only in the modernist sense. Impingement no. 67 explores the space of 1961 through a sophisticated mapping of polyhedra projected into the space (for mathematical/geometric nerds, no. 67 is an octahedron circumscribing an icosahedron). Black lines, sometimes full and other times dotted, articulate the shadows of these projection of polyhedrons into architectural space. Standing in the space is akin to standing in the work itself, completing the relationship of subject and object, the figure upon which space articulates and upon which lines begin to circumscribe. To take this argument further, there is no art object without the visitor, as it is through the visitor that the emptiness of the space becomes full of lines that are predicated upon its distance from the body of the visitor. The visitor, in being present, realises the art object through being the object upon which the art can focus and be articulated (in words).

As a further complication to the mode of art practiced by Woodley, he considers the presentation of the same polyhedra drawing in different spaces the same work of art. Three factors are at play in no. 67: the space, the polyhedra drawing and the visitor. If the space itself is mutable, like the identity of the visitor, then there is no longer a fixed visuality to the works in the Impingement series. How could the beholder of his art describe his work when the shape and form constantly changes, constantly dissolves and mutates according to the space that is in? While paintings possess a solid form, Impingement is like air of art, without a fixed shape or form and resistant to our attempts to grasp it. No. 67 expands, contracts and adapts to the space of exhibition.

The choice of work is brave and experimental in the Singapore imagination. Installation art and the complete dematerialisation of the art object remains a difficult genre to grasp. Sometimes, like with Impingement, it is even a deliberate strategy of dissolution. As a London-based artist, Woodley’s practice has progressed differently from the practice of our local artists, which, on the outset, might seem intimidating or too conceptual. Nonetheless, while it is not a show that can be seen in a glance, Impingement no. 67 is an installation worth experiencing, understanding and thus realising with the artist. Its soft participatory element is a delight to realise and wholly inspiring after looking at static art forms more common in the Singapore artscape.

As a private gallery, 1961’s key responsibility is to grow potential buyers’ understanding and discernment toward the kind of art the gallerist, Gabriel Loy, believes in. In this way, the artists gain a more nuanced audience through their collaboration with the gallery and visitors gain a stronger affinity toward the art and program of the gallery. As a further plus to the art visitor, Gabriel makes your visit worth your while through an openness that should be present but often neglected in a gallery visit. While not exactly a “curatorial” or “artist” tour, the gallerist is genuinely interested in sharing with and learning more about his visitors, allowing for an exchange that goes beyond terse descriptions of Woodley’s art online. Aspiring collectors would be encouraged by Gabriel, whose friendliness and depth of knowledge makes it easy to ask the difficult questions about collecting.

Impingement no. 67 runs through 23 September 2017. 

Impingement no. 67

28 July – 23 September 2017